Are smartphones viewed as supercomputers?

Five years of Apple Watch: The supercomputer on the wrist

Peter Müller

The iPhone shrunk to watch size five years ago! No, not really, but the Apple Watch has its own qualities.

EnlargeGolden Apple Watches in the Apple Store
© Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine / CC0

From a distance, it was like this: At first, computers were the size of houses, especially the supercomputers among them. When the Deutsches Museum in Munich reopens, you can have a look at the Cray, which was unsurpassed in its time. At some point you could put computers on the desk and not just terminals connected to the monster in the server room. Technology made more and more advances, and the computer that you could at least carry from desk to desk became one that you put in a briefcase and opened on your lap to work. Hardly had a few years passed when you no longer needed a briefcase, but one in a jacket or a handbag to make a supercomputer disappear. And finally five years ago we put the computer on our wrist. Who knows, in the late twenties, contact lenses might be able to do what the Apple Watch can do today?

Obviously, up close, it's not that easy. Today's supercomputers still fill machine shops and server rooms, and there's a world of difference between the Mac Pro and Apple Watch, even if they sport the same logo. But of course it's true that computers have become more and more personal over time; Apple was one of the major pioneers of this revolution. While others estimated the need for home computers at five worldwide, Apple had long since thought ahead and democratized computing with the Mac at the latest. It was no longer necessary to read an incomprehensible manual for ages, simply put it in front of the screen and use the mouse to move the symbols on it that transported a familiar working environment into digital.

The first suitable laptop also had an apple logo on the lid and what Apple has initiated since 2007 with the reinvention of the computer in the form of a telephone, that fills volumes. However, on the way to the still more personal computer, the tried and tested solutions did not suddenly become obsolete, Apple could not operate its services without thousands of cupboards full of servers and an iPhone is rarely used as a replacement for the desktop - even if it does the processors of the latest models can compete with many an office machine.

Five years ago, some commentators misunderstood the essence of the Apple Watch, which went on sale on April 24, 2015 - two weeks earlier, it could be ordered for the first time, a little more than six months after it was presented as the first product in a new category that Apple ventured into. No, despite all the advances made in the last five years, the Apple Watch is still not - and never will be - an iPhone for the wrist. However, it is the "most personal device that we have ever built", as Apple has emphasized since 2014/15 - only the Airpods are getting even closer to their users. But Apple never spoke of the "most personal computer" - the first Apple Watch already had a chip with such a performance that all Apollo crews would have licked their fingers up to their elbows afterwards.

But the Apple Watch serves other purposes, even Apple took a while to recognize exactly which it was. The first line-up showed a certain helplessness: the sports watch, which does not compete with fitness trackers, but rams them into the ground without sharpening. The Apple Watch with a stainless steel case, a piece of jewelry that competes for space on the wrist with the cheaper mechanical watches. And finally the golden model, which on the one hand shows off, but also only shows where the limits are. After all, who would buy a watch and bracelet for 18,000 euros as an investment when a year later the technology inside the golden case is outdated again? Apple has also only sold the Apple Watch Edition in gold to selected customers in a few places, and with the Series 2 in the "Edition" has opted for far cheaper and, above all, more useful ceramic.

Apple only learned over time from customer feedback that the Apple Watch is not only a versatile and useful communication tool - checking incoming messages with a view to their importance, accepting or rejecting calls - but also a health device with great potential. And while Apple used to be famous for fulfilling the wishes of customers that they didn't even know they had before, Apple now listened to users and massively expanded the health functions. EKG, fall detection, identification of irregularities in the pulse, motivation to exercise more - the Apple Watch is certainly the healthiest device that Apple has ever built.

But there is more: blood sugar, blood pressure, body temperature - and in the coming weeks, months and years, increasingly important - anonymized tracking of contacts - at some point the Apple Watch should be available on a health insurance basis.

You can also use it to make contactless payments, which is not unimportant in times of pandemic. Even if it now has its own app store, gets along with eSIM quite well without an iPhone at times and at some point becomes completely independent, like the iPhone from iOS 5 onwards from PC and Mac - it does not allow the smartphone to become superfluous. And not the laptop. Not the desktop. Not the supercomputer.